Stella Randolph Collection on Gustave Whitehead

DSpace/Manakin Repository

Stella Randolph Collection on Gustave Whitehead

 

Stella Randolph was born July 29, 1895, the youngest of six children to Kate A. and Albert F. Randolph. Farm life near Green Valley, Illinois included attending a rural school built by her grandfather, walking one and a half miles each way. The grandfather had moved the family from Morristown, New Jersey in 1856. When Stella was eight years old her father died.

Stella rode a horse and buggy to Delavan High School, eight miles away, graduating at age sixteen; then attended James Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois. From her early days in college, Stella earned her own way, working during the day and attending the university at night. Her work included teaching in a rural school, then fifth and sixth graders at Green Valley before teaching English and Geometry at Green Valley High School.

While in college, Stella worked for the Treasury Department, the War Risk Insurance Department, and the Bureau of Internal Revenue doing clerical work, graduating in 1922 with an A.B. degree in Modern Languages from George Washington University in Washington, D.C.; followed in 1923 by an M.A. degree in Philosophy while working for the American Child Health Association. When the Association moved to New York City, Stella followed, working as a secretary for the Medical Director.

When the Great Depression of the early 1930’s caused financial difficulties for welfare organizations, Stella lost her job. Upon returning to Washington, D.C., she did temporary work and free-lance writing to support herself. In early 1934 she was employed by Colonel L.H. Brittin; then by Gallinger Municipal Hospital. By the time of the publication of her first book, Lost Flights of Gustave Whitehead in 1937, she had been devoting her evenings to writing for three years, after working daily in the office of the Health Director of the District of Columbia.

Throughout all the years of work and classes, Stella continued to do free-lance writing. To make ends meet between and during her jobs, she eventually moved in with two of her sisters, who by this time were often not well. Stella never married and seemed to willingly take on the responsibility of ailing siblings.

Stella Randolph’s interest in Gustave Whitehead began serendipitously when she was given a small newsprint article from Harvey Phillips, her free-lance boss, who suggested that she see if there was a story there. At the time she knew almost nothing about aviation. From Stella’s letters it is clear that she was curious, feisty, resilient, doggedly determined, and stayed on-course when working on a project. You can see vividly her sense of humor and determination, and not easily fooled by people trying to take advantage – “they haven’t taken the red head into account” when talking about the local political landscape.

Most of this collection is focused on Stella Randolph’s interest in Gustave Whitehead and his place in history. She never wanted to discredit the role and place in history that is held by the Wright brothers. Rather, she wanted to see Whitehead and his work recognized "as the gifted and dedicated inventor that he was." Gustave Whitehead had died by the time Stella’s research began in June 1934.

By October 1979 it had been 45 years since Stella began her research on Gustave Whitehead. In that time she had published two books, several articles, written the manuscript for a third book, and started another.

In 1980 Stella was 85 years old and still writing letters and keeping busy, although by her own admission she seemed to be slowing down. Over the years, even before 1980, she had medical challenges, but seemed to face them head-on.

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